The parallels between Cyberaktif’s sole pre-existing LP Tenebrae Vision from 1991 and the industrial supergroup’s 2024 reunion eNdgame are pretty easy to draw. Like its predecessor, the new LP finds Cevin Key and Bill Leeb reuniting creatively for the first time in years (Leeb having been an early member of Skinny Puppy with Key before the foundation of Front Line Assembly), and like that record it reflects the contemporary musical modes of its creators.
If it’s been a few years since you revisited Tenebrae Vision, it’s an album that feels alternately like the FLA material of the time, and the music that Key and musical partner in Puppy and beyond Dwayne Goettel were exploring in their trippy instrumental industrial project Doubting Thomas. And you get the same vibe from eNdgame: there’s a strong sense of the melodic, highly produced sound Leeb and his long-running collaborator Rhys Fulber have been working in their recent FLA albums, and a healthy dose of the psychedelic, textural dub that has informed Key’s production and compositions in recent years.
It’s a combination of musical ideas that is complimentary, and while very few songs on the record stick out in terms of hooks or composition, it is a pleasurable listen. A cut like “Bitter End” takes the laidback and smoked out sound of Key’s bouncier modern programming and welds it to the sleek cybernetic sound design that has been informing the last decade or so of Front Line’s work, resulting in a pleasing organic groove. Opener “A Single Trace” swings in a different direction, riding the sort of solid bassline and drum programming that have been a hallmark of Leeb and Fulber’s catalogue, the atonal blips of its synth lead and vocodered chorus accented by some subtle bits of stereo sound design which feel very Key-like in their application. It’s all very nicely put together and the songs feel like they have a deliberate construction without succumbing to the sometimes jammy nature of Key’s muse or the formulaic approach that has plagued some of the more recent Front Line albums. On the topic of Leeb’s vocals and lyrics – well, they’re fairly on brand, with Bill tossing off non-sequitur couplets like “Poison Gas/Midnight Mass” and “Path of Doom/Poisonous Moon” in his signature processed growl. That’s basically a feature and not a bug at this point; a line like “Clowns are dancing everywhere/Throwing knives like they just don’t care” is more charming than eye-rolling if you’re a devotee.
There are two standout moments in terms of songs, ones that suggest a bit of a different direction the record might have taken. “The Freight” takes the sort of cinematic vibe that Front Line’s video game soundtracks Airmech and Warmech and molds them into a slow rolling ballad that blossoms with some synthwave flourish, distinct for its gradual build and musical payoff. It feels like something neither Leeb and Fulber nor Key might have done on their own, which is what makes the other truly notable track “Broken Through Time” even more interesting for its reach back to the sound of the project’s immortal club classic “Nothing Stays”. The emotional melody carried via the sort of hard PCM drums and the soft-edged synthlines that informed the golden era of both FLA and Skinny Puppy respectively, its reverie more potent simply because the artists so rarely mine that kind of nostalgia in their own contemporary work.
As it stands, eNdgame is neither a throwback to the early nineties, nor a bold new exploration of the potential of the pairing of musicians that made it. Rarely more than pleasant, but never less either, it speaks to the musical evolution of its creators and the ways in which their artistic trajectories both align and deviate after all these years.